Welcome to New Earth Disability, which is the first major initiative aimed at addressing the intersection of climate change and disability worldwide. We are happy that you have discovered this extremely important topic and we strive to give you more resources to learn and make change in your community. Read on for more.
Why Climate Change and Disability?
Climate change is one of the most significant issues facing the world today, with consequences for the environment, economies, natural resources, public health and countless other parts of society. Many of these consequences endanger lives and well-being world-wide. The climate is changing largely because humans have been burning fossil fuels for the past 150 years – for example, using coal in electrical power plants or gasoline in cars and trucks – which releases carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gases” (GHGs) into the atmosphere. These GHGs trap the sun’s heat, so when there are more in the atmosphere, it warms the Earth’s atmosphere itself (as well as the oceans, which also absorb heat). Atmospheric CO2 levels have increased from around 280 parts per million (ppm) in the 1870s to over 400 ppm today; as a result, average global temperatures have jumped around 1°C (1.8°F) in that timeframe, and scientists predict a change of 2°C or more in the coming decades. Warmer global temperatures lead to other changes including stronger and more frequent storms, hotter heat waves, deeper droughts, rising sea levels and more. These affect individuals and societies, for example through storms causing injuries or coastal flooding forcing people to find new homes. Although we can reduce our carbon emissions through renewable energy and other efforts, the Earth will continue to warm to some extent – and may warm drastically in the coming decades. That means that we must prepare for climate change and build our resilience moving forward.
People with disabilities (PWDs) are uniquely impacted by the effects of climate change. Disability covers a diverse array of impairments and populations, and climate change leads to a very broad set of consequences – so concerns for the disability community are incredibly complex. For example, somebody with a physical disability may have difficulty finding accessible evacuation shelters during storms, while a person with chronic health conditions may experience exhaustion or even heat-stroke during heat waves. As we adapt to climate change, we must focus on disability-inclusive adaptation and climate resilience at every level possible.
Some examples of the connections between climate change and disability include:
- Natural disasters: Climate change will lead to more frequent and intense natural disasters, such as hurricanes, flood-causing downpours, or wildfires. People with disabilities are especially vulnerable during natural disasters: they have difficulty evacuating hard-hit areas, escaping damaged buildings, finding accessible shelters, and finding medical and personal support care during emergencies. Therefore, there should be comprehensive disaster readiness and response (DRR) that includes the needs of PWDs.
- Extreme heat: Climate change contributes to hotter and longer heat waves, where a string of extremely hot days and nights can stress people’s health. Many types of disabilities make it harder to manage extreme heat, and because people with disabilities face higher poverty levels on average, they may have lower-quality housing with less access to air-conditioning (AC) will. Individuals also may not have easy access to cooling shelters, depending on their living situation (i.e limited access to transportation, nearby accessible shelters, or personal support needs in cooling areas). This all puts PWDs at greater risk of life-threatening heat exhaustion or heatstroke during extreme heat events. To improve health and safety, governments and other planners should increase the availability of accessible cooling shelters, provide disability supports at those shelters, improve housing insulation and AC (especially for low-income PWDs), and provide electric utility discounts for PWDs who need them.
- Climate migration: Hundreds of millions to well over 1 billion people may be displaced due to the consequences of climate change in the coming decades. Some reasons for moving include abandoning flooding shorelines or drought-ridden areas, being displaced by a climate-related natural disaster and never moving back, or even escaping from violent conflict sparked by climate-related effects (i.e. wars over limited water resources). However, it may be difficult for PWDs to move: they may not be able to find accessible transportation or housing, they may not be able to keep healthcare/social services, their personal support networks may become scattered, or they may simply be turned away at borders because of their disability. It is important to guarantee accessible transportation and housing, maintain support networks and medical services, and ensure that migration law does not discriminate based on disability.
These climate-related issues and more will take massive efforts to address. Because so many lives are at stake, we must start those efforts now – and for the sake of people with disabilities, in the most comprehensive way possible. That will require everything from research, to rebuilding infrastructure and services, to creating partnerships between organizations and countries, to enforcing international law. But most importantly, it will take resources, focus, energy, and teamwork. And it is important to start now.
New Earth Disability at wid.org
The World Institute on Disability’s “New Earth Disability” (NED) initiative began in 2014 as a blog exploring the intersections of climate change and disability. Over the past several years, it has grown to include detailed research, publications, presentations, and direct partnerships toward inclusive climate resilience efforts. We strive to educate the public, including climate change and disability stakeholders, collaborate with allies and advocate for this important and diverse community. We hope you will join us in this effort.
This section of the WID website is broken up into several topics, from an overview of climate change to the effects of specific climate-related issues. We are continually expanding our research and partnerships – so check back regularly. We are always looking for more partners and collaborators as well, so also please feel free to get in touch with Alex Ghenis, the NED project manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to this NED introduction page, NED online offers:
- Introduction to climate change
- Natural disasters
- Heat waves and extreme heat
- Climate-related migration and displacement
- NED blogs, newsletters, articles, & papers
- Existing resources
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